Panama’s Natural world gains Rights

Panama joins a host of other countries in a legal movement that gives land, trees, rivers, coral reefs, and mountains legal rights. After a year of debate, the law creates a tool for conservation.

Panama’s National Assembly and President ​​Laurentino Cortizo signed legislation on Thursday that defines nature as “a unique, indivisible and self-regulating community of living beings, elements and ecosystems interrelated to each other that sustains, contains and reproduces all beings.” 

The legislation includes six paragraphs of rights extended to nature, including the “right to exist, persist and regenerate its life cycles,” the “right to conserve its biodiversity,” and the “right to be restored after being affected directly or indirectly by any human activity.” 

The legislation also imposes new obligations on Panama’s government, including a requirement that its plans, policies, and programs respect the rights of nature. It instructs the government to develop manufacturing processes and energy policies that safeguard ecosystems, and it requires the government to promote the rights of nature as part of its foreign policy. 

James May, a law professor at the Widener University Delaware Law School, Explained in an article with Grist that the legislation will make it easier for people to bring legal cases on behalf of rivers, forests, and ecosystems in Panama. 

The legislation will also have implications on the government’s policies for the development of the country. Moreover, the law gives legal grounds to communities urging the government to "look before the leap."

Callie Veelenturf, a marine conservation biologist who first proposed the law to Panamanian policymakers, said the country’s new law would complement existing protections for nature in Ecuador and Colombia, creating a “safe haven” for migratory species that travel throughout the region. “Nature knows no country boundaries,” Veelenturf told me. “We’re hoping that this new legislation will inspire other countries to take similar steps to propose rights of nature legislation.”

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